which can be a problem, too.
Take the last week or so. President Obama told the Syrian government, through the media, that proof of their use of chemical weapons against their own people would cross a "red line." In fact, it would even be a "game-changer." According to news reports, the White House went through a weekend of meetings to discuss the President's posturing (important in diplomacy) regarding Syria and how he should phrase it. The language he wound up using at a press conference was not what they agreed to and apparently was more direct than they intended.
This post has nothing to do with the policy the President is trying to signal. My issue is the language chosen.
I think that "sound bites" come into play here. When I worked in government/politics, the "sound bite" was the key to the day, in that a good one could get you on the news that night (pre-heavy cable presence), and wasn't getting on TV the key to politics (still is, unfortunately). So, I'm guessing, part of the president's thinking was, how do I get maximum attention, domestically and internationally, for what I'm saying. Thus, "red line" and "game-changer."
In diplomatic speak, you also have to think what a classic American expression will mean to someone in another country. I once asked someone from another country if he had a cold, for example, and he responded "no it's very
warm here." Different meanings in different places.
I think that the puffed up jargon, clichés, sound bites and metaphors of recent years are contributing not only to a breakdown of the language, but a breakdown in our culture. We find short cuts to expressing ourselves which results in us using words that are not as precise as they should be. Thus we "send the wrong message" than we intend sometimes.
The late Bill Safire, a former Nixon speechwriter, wrote the "On Language" column for the New York Times.
Safire wrote about the phrase "game-changer", which he thought should be hyphenated, by the way. Not surprising, he traced the origin of the phrase to sports, which are, after all, "games" (versus, say, avoiding war which is not a game). He
summed up his thoughts on game-changer by saying:
"Will this trope find a permanent place in dictionaries? Some players in the antedating game doubt it, recalling the feverish use of “game plan” in the ’70s. And when was the last time you heard “the name of the game,” the nonce
phrase of which everything was all about? Game-changing may one day go the way of those, hyphen and all."
Apparently, at the moment, "game-change" is here to stay. Merriam-Webster now lists the phrase in its dictionary. It sources its first-known use to 1993.